Monday, March 12, 2012

Art Collection: Amateur Copy Of Mutt & Jeff Comic Strip, Ca. 1921

(Click for larger)

I've really been having a lot of fun showing you and writing about all the crazy cartoon art forgeries pumped out into the collectors' market by the hundreds (literally!) by the Gallery on Baum. Not only are the forgeries interesting (and kind of sad) in and of themselves, but they've served as a jumping off point concerning all sorts of aspects of cartoon art, how it's made, how it's marketed, and how it isn't always what it appears to be to the untrained eye. So far I've shown you forgeries on the one hand, and fakes (like Virgil Ross's ersatz "model sheets"), which aren't necessarily forgeries, on the other. But there's a third kind of non-genuine cartoon artwork to look out for: the copy.

This time I'm going to show you something from my own collection, seen above. I bought it on eBay for dirt cheap knowing full well it wasn't a genuine Bud Fisher Studios Mutt and Jeff drawing (like this one, also in my collection), and the eBay seller didn't misrepresent the piece; he knew there was something very "off" about it.

So how did I know this drawing wasn't genuine? Besides the clumsy quality of the drawing, the real tip-off here was the size: it's only 5" x 15", or just about the same size as the strip appeared in the newspaper. Newspaper cartoonists always worked larger than scale, and in the case of Mutt and Jeff, a LOT larger (original drawings from this period measure a whopping 11.5" x 30"). Furthermore, the support for the drawing isn't a proper illustration board, but a cheap, stiff piece of white-faced cardboard which, as you can see, has deteriorated badly, a veritable geyser of acid, foxing, and wood pulp. This is not a cartoonist's board.

The next step was to find the original Mutt and Jeff strip as it ran in the newspaper, and here it is, from June, 1921:

(Click for larger)

Is the small version some kind of direct tracing from the newspaper strip? No, it's not very faithful at all. Here's a section of both drawings superimposed:

Not even close. And there's another big difference: the copyist changed the name of the town from "Hokey" to "Frederick." And, finally, the copyist didn't include Fisher's signature in his drawing.

So what is this weird, small comic strip drawing? Basically, it's simply an amateur fooling around. Perhaps this budding artist enjoyed comics and one day thought, "I'm going to try to do one of those," and then did so, substituting his own town to personalize the piece.  Or perhaps somebody was reading this particular Mutt and Jeff and thought, "That reminds me of my friend who is always going on and on about his hometown. I'm going to draw a version of this for him."

So this isn't a forgery, as it wasn't created with the intent to deceive, otherwise the name of the town wouldn't be changed and there would be a signature. And it isn't exactly a fake, either. It's simply a clumsy freehand copy innocently made for fun.

What it also is, however, is old, probably from around the same time as the original, and probably copied directly from the newspaper (how would the artist know the title, otherwise?). And I imagine that somewhere along the line in the last 90 (!) years before it came to the dealer who sold it to me, previous owners probably didn't recognize that it was a copy. I bet it was regarded as a genuine Mutt and Jeff drawing for decades.

And there are more copies like this out there, although I've never before seen a copy of an entire strip. A lot of fans and inspired amateurs tried to make drawings of their favorite cartoon characters, again with no intent to deceive, but these amateur drawings age, and they change hands, and if the copyist is talented... well, then, there's another good recipe for confusion and misattribution in the cartoon art market. And I've seen at least one case where an old fan drawing later had a forged signature added to it, so combo copies/forgeries also exist. Beware.

The moral of this story is, once again, to stick with verifiable published art. And this case shows that sometimes something seems to be genuine published art until you look closer and add up all the factors.

Gallery on Baum update: since my last post, GoB has added to their eBay store a Broom Hilda forgery, a Frank and Ernest forgery, and a particularly egregious James Montgomery Flagg forgery which looks completely unlike anything he ever drew, ever


The Cat's Meow said...

Okay, that Flagg forgery really gets my goat.

Peteykins said...

Seriously... a Flagg drawing done in marker? With that MASSIVE signature? That is inconceivable. Plus, like I said, it just doesn't look the faintest bit like anything he ever drew, nor do the other Flagg forgeries the GoB has sold.

Matthew Hubbard said...

I'm so glad you have a topic as worthy of your talents as Callista's hairdo obviously is. Even though it feels like it might, the Republican nomination fight cannot last forever and Cheerful Old Newt's chances to get the nod are dwindling very quickly.

The Cat's Meow said...

Peddling a Flagg forgery is.... downright UNPATRIOTIC!

HRH King Friday XIII, Ret. said...

The 100% raiting these guys have really gets me.

Anonymous said...

I clicked on the strips before I read the article, so I was really confused when I saw Frederick and Hokey. Thanks for the explanations.

Again, I am still SO fascinated by this and I know nothing about art, comics, cartoons, etc..

I am going to be sad when Callista's heyday is over as well.

Anonymous said...

I much admire yr comments on Kondi/Kallista hair, but these latest on cartoon art are even more enlightening. How about your writing a book on the matter (if you haven't already)?